Recently, I interviewed with Julie Rose of BYU Radio’s Top of Mind program. We only had a few minutes to talk about neighborhood conflicts, but I hope to expand upon that conversation here in my blog. For a recording of our interview click here.
Whether you’re living in an apartment or on a large estate, investing in neighborhood relationships in the good times just makes sense for building community and working through conflicts. Too often, we only get to know our neighbors because we have a conflict with them or if there’s some kind of emergency that brings us together.
Rather than ignore investing in relationships with our neighbors, I advocate for making a long-term investment, even if we live in an apartment situation that seems temporary. Sometimes the most temporary of neighborhood situations lasts for many years and sometimes the ones that seem like they will never change, do. That’s the nature of our modern lives, but we still need each other…probably more than we think we do.
In a time when too many of us feel unattached to our communities, consider the benefits of investing in better relationships with those who may literally live within a few feet of us but who may be perfect strangers to us today.
Some of the benefits—both large and small--of strong neighborhood relationships include:
- Strong social network
- A sense of belonging
- Unexpected friends
- Expanded worldview
- Physical safety
- Help when you’re in a jam
- Help with the yard
- Assistance to search for lost or runaway dogs (I’ve needed this so many times!)
Most of these benefits are tied to the depth of the relationships we choose to develop with our neighbors. I have found that when I have positive emotional capital in my relationships with neighbors, I can not only ask for favors but am also more likely to exercise restraint in potentially contentious areas of communal living.
From my own life, whether in an apartment or a single-family home, my life is just better when I have closer relationships with my neighborhoods. Of course, we encounter differences—that’s just life. However, when I have better relationships with my neighbors—that I have nurtured during the periods without conflict—we have an easier time dealing with potential areas of conflict when they do arise.
Understanding Different Types of Neighbor/Living Situations
Whether you live in an apartment, condo, or single-family home, the key is to plan for a long-term relationship with someone you may believe only shares your same economic demographic—if that.
Consider the potential issues with any living arrangement you may experience:
- Garbage Can Placement
- Pipes Bursting
- Sewage Back
- Storms—tree branches, leaves and other debris from neighbor’s yard into your own
- Bee hives, raccoons, squirrels, snakes…
- Construction—fences, plants, port-a-potties, noise, parking
- Kids Playing
- Shared spaces like parks
- Easements onto property
Each of these situations demand negotiation, time and effort. Sometimes, we have third parties such as HOA leaders or leasing managers to assist us, but often we are still left in situations that require our best relationship skills.
The Expected vs. Unexpected Conflicts with Neighbors
While many of us like “good” surprises such as a birthday party, most of us do not appreciate a negative surprise. So, I suggest communicating with neighbors before rather than after a conflict about things like this:
- Loud music
- Crowded parking
- New dog or other animals
- Tree trimming or other forms of yard work
- Short or long-term guests
- New paint color, outdoor furniture or play equipment
- New babysitter
- Borrowing something
- Unintentional damage to the yard or other property
- Leaving the lights on
Of course, we don’t have to change all of our plans just because our neighbor disapproves of what we intend to do. However, we benefit from considering the long-term relationship rather than just moving forward with the “act now and apologize later” mode, which can destroy the potential for solid neighborhood relationships. In short, when we communicate beforehand rather than during or after, we are building trust.
Neighbor Conflict Traps
Finally, let’s talk about fairly universal traps that we fall into that lead to contentious neighbor relationships.
- We often omit doing any research about direct and surrounding neighbors before we lay down roots.
- Think about how much you agonize over deciding whom to marry or what job to take. You’re not going to marry your neighbor, but you will be heavily influenced by their activities, whether you like it or not over potentially long periods of time.
- We give limited attention to our neighbors—we do not build for the long-haul.
- We ignore the importance of neighborhood relationships until we really need them: too little too late is often just that: too little too late.
- We treat neighbors differently than we would other long-term relationships—we don’t always think they deserve the treatment that most long-term relationships benefit from receiving.
- We think in dualities: We oversimplify how we categorize and think about our relationships. Good/bad, happy/sad, helpful/unhelpful, selfish/generous.
- “I like my neighbors/I don’t like my neighbors.”
- “I know my neighbors, I don’t know my neighbors.”
- We make assumptions without tentatively seeking out better information and insight.
- We may gossip about neighbors, thinking that it will never come back to us.
- We withhold saying anything until we can’t stand it (we figuratively try to hold our breath in conflicts)
- Set expectations. Be clear about what you can and cannot do.
- Focus on building a personal relationship from the very beginning that is sincere, non-judgmental, but clearly defined with individual/family boundaries because “to be clear is kind (Brene Brown).”
Take Lateral Conflict Resolution Steps Before Vertical Moves
When we conflict with others, especially neighbors, we often think of going to authorities (vertical) before going to our neighbor (lateral). This is backwards. We need to focus first on using lateral methods to resolve conflicts then resort to vertical methods. Consider the following lateral and vertical conflict resolution moves:
Lateral Conflict Resolution Steps
- I go in person to the neighbor with whom I have an issue
- I don’t blame or accuse the neighbor of anything, but I communicate my need as a request, and not as a demand.
- I don’t just communicate with my neighbor about problems, but about good things, too. I make sure to put something in my neighbor’s emotional bank account.
After I have exhausted efforts laterally, then I try to figure out how to vertically influence my neighbor with whom I have an issue that focuses on preserving a long-term relationship.
Vertical Conflict Resolution Steps
If lateral conflict resolution methods fail, I may try steps like the following:
- Appeal to 3rd parties, both formal parties like an HOA president or leasing manager, or a mutually-trusted neighbor for informal mediation.
- Consider alternative forms of communication besides a face-to-face interaction. Warning: have someone you trust edit your communication for tone, purpose, and effectiveness.
- If other efforts fail, go up the vertical ladder of authority, but be careful about surprising people with real threats because when you create fear you will exacerbate the initial conflict.
Lateral and vertical conflict resolution steps relate directly to the concept of the five conflict approaches that I have written about previously on my blog. Please click here to review that article: Exploring the Five Conflict Approaches.
While there is much more to be said on the topic, we all benefit by investing in relationships with our neighbors, regardless of our perceived differences. We can spend all the time in the world wishing they were different, but when we accept who our neighbors are right now, we can begin making changes to improve the quality of life for all around us.
This is no small thing. A nation is comprised of individuals grouped in neighborhoods who either successfully get along or they don’t. It’s up to each of us to do our part—not just in resolving differences with our neighbors but in making sure we build strong relationships with each other during the good times too.